A Dangerous Conceit
By Dr Shireen M Mazari

The fatal accident in Kabul on May 29 in which an American military vehicle rammed into traffic and caused death and injury to many Afghans has resulted in the first major public backlash against the Americans. To add to the anger of the local Afghans, the US forces and Afghan police then fired in the air and into a crowd of protesters. The protests of the Afghans, which also involved the burning of local police stations, have an ominous familiarity to them.
One is reminded of Iraq where Iraqis have been targeting and killing local police to protest against the American occupation as well as the abuse of Iraqi civilians and prisoners. Equally critical is the familiar pattern of arrogant behavior of the Americans towards the local population that is caused by their frustration at being unable to achieve stability in both Iraq and, increasingly of late, Afghanistan.
Just a few days before this accident in Kabul, President Karzai had taken time out from haranguing against Pakistan and criticized the Americans for killing Afghan civilians in a bombing raid. And now we have this incident where an American armored vehicle rammed into cars in a traffic jam in Kabul. Clearly, the only way one can ram into cars in a traffic jam is to be driving totally recklessly with no regard for anyone else. This is reflective of the growing arrogance one finds in Americans in terms of their attitude towards Iraqis and Afghans in particular, and Muslims in general. There are continuing reports of American abuse of Iraqi prisoners and despite that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has again said that dogs will continue to be used in Iraqi prisons. New reports also point to the deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by US forces in locations other than Fallujah. And now there are now reports that many of those incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay were taken prisoner when they were still minors.
In Afghanistan, it seems the same conceit is setting in and this is reflected even in the retired military personnel who continue to work for the US military as consultants. Last week, one was subjected to one such person who clearly had forgotten that he had crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan and that we were free people under no occupation force. Ostensibly here for discussions and to hear Pakistani perspectives on the problems relating to Afghanistan, it was clear from the outset that the gentleman had no intention of hearing anything contrary to his preconceived notions. Pakistan's concerns over Afghan refugees or the questionable Indian presence in Afghanistan's border areas with Pakistan matter little, it would appear, to the US. Worse still, the man's demeanor reflected the same arrogance and disregard for locals that has been evident in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. To some extent that is why the terrorists are not being denied political and operational space -- in fact they have gained more space since the invasion of Iraq.
It is also this American attitude that has upped the ante over Iran, with the US least bothered about its non-accommodative and discriminatory approach towards Iran as contrasted with its conciliatory approach towards North Korea where dialogue is seen as the way forward to conflict resolution. North Korea had left the NPT and declared itself to be a nuclear state and still the US opted for dialogue. In the case of Iran, the US is not prepared to hear of any dialogue even though Iran has not left the NPT and continues to insist that it has no intention of producing nuclear weapons. Whatever the worth of that declared intention, it should be possible to accommodate Iran through dialogue involving the US -- but for the latter's attitude. Or does being a Muslim state affect the American psyche so much?
The conceit one presently finds among the neo-cons is not restricted to the Bush Administration only. Recently, a member of the American Enterprise Institute was in Malaysia holding forth on what moderate and progressive Islam should be. Clearly, dialogue is not possible with the Americans because their arrogance only allows for a monologue. Anything else they regard as "unhelpful", if not totally unacceptable. Why should Pakistan be concerned about this rising tide of American political and military arrogance? Because we are already seeing it being used against us periodically. As some of us had been predicting, the A.Q. Khan issue was not going to go away because of his confession on television and our extensive -– some would say excessive -– cooperation with the IAEA. Despite all this, we continue to have the Western media and American Congressmen raise the A.Q. Khan issue -– and this time coincidentally just when the Indo-US nuclear deal is facing problems in the US Congress. Are the US Congressmen truly unaware of India's proliferation record, including in connection with Iran, or of the European links to the A.Q. Khan network, or is Pakistan-bashing at one level or another a favorite pastime of these people? If they are not holding forth against us on Afghanistan (recall the recent remarks of the US State Department's coordinator for counter-terrorism that Pakistan is not doing enough to help root out Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders), then the proliferation issue ad nauseum raises its head.
Even more dangerous is the growing instability that the arrogance of the Bush Administration is causing, which sees pre-emption as its legitimate right despite international laws to the contrary. For Pakistan, this threat of destabilization is heightened not only by a lack of stability in Afghanistan but also by the overt efforts to impose regime change in Iran. Not only has the US announced the setting up of a fund to overthrow the regime in Iran, it also seems to be working on bringing together Iranian dissidents in the region. A BBC report of May 29 on the violence in Iraq said that a bus carrying Iraqi laborers had been targeted by terrorists and these poor workers were working in a camp set up in Iraq by the US for Iranian dissidents.
At the end of the day, it is the average long-suffering Muslim citizens who continue to suffer the costs of the war on terror, where they are victims twice over -- from the extremists in their midst who violate their lives and their religion and from the Americans who care not a hoot for their aspirations as they occupy their lands. And then they are also caught in the crossfire of the Americans and those who, for whatever reason, choose to fight their occupation and/or their presence on their soil. As the incident in Kabul showed only too clearly, this is a battle in which the main casualty is the average person in the streets.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)




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